Cam Newton certainly has developed a new knack for pulling out gut wrenching games down the stretch as was the case in week 12 at Miami. Carolina (8-3) rallied from a 13 point first half deficit when Newton threw a game winning 12 yard scoring pass to Greg Olsen with :43 left helping the Panthers to their 7th straight win matching their all time best set in 1996. Newton's clutch performance against the Dolphins came on the heels of a 24-20 win over New England on Nov. 18 in which he led the Panthers 83 yards on 13 plays and threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr. with 59 seconds left to take the lead.
Newton (208/337 2353 17 TD 9 INT) is showing more and more versatility at the right time with the Panthers just a game behind the New Orleans Saints for first place in the NFC South. The Panthers are looking to sweep the season series against the Tampa Bay Bucs (3-8) as Newton scored 3 TD's in their 31-13 win just over a month ago. Steve Smith (51-581 3 TD) continues to be Newton's top target excelling in the primary spotlight for nearly 14 seasons. Smith is playing through a knee injury but the receiving core also includes the veteran TE Olsen (45-526 5 TD) and Brandon Lafell (40-495 4 TD) who fell victim to mostly double coverage last week. DeAngelo Williams (151-610 4.0 2 TD) is dealing with a quad injury which means Jonathan Stewart (33-125 3.8) could see more touches. Of course Newton brings his own scrambling ability to the table (77-379 4.9 5 TD) making him all the more dangerous in the open field.
While the Buccaneers have nothing but pride to play for, they are certainly making a case to rally around disgruntled head coach Greg Schiano who after losing his first 8 games seemed inevitable to be shown the door by or before season's end. A 24-21 upset over Detroit extended TB's winning streak to 3 games. Mike Glennon (168/269 1782 13 TD 4 INT) has exceeded team expectations and threw for 247 yards and 2 scores in week 12. Vincent Jackson (58-888 5 TD) is one of the best in the business and could have another bug day since Carolina is one of the league's best against the run. Timothy Wright (34-366 2 TD) had one of his better games against the Lions catching 8 passes for 75 yards. With Bobby Rainey (56-243 4.3 3 TD) the lone featured back, Tampa Bay could be forced to become one dimensional limiting his minutes and carries especially coming off a 36 yard 18 rush performance (2.0) in Detroit.
With Tampa Bay shady in the secondary due to injuries to Michael Adams, Mason Foster and Jonathan Banks, Carolina may successfully transform the running game into Newton transforming the offense into play action forcing the Bucs to cover at a disadvantage. If Newton is on top of his game that could spell trouble for Tampa's ability to mount an upset. Charles Johnson returns this week and the combination on the line with Greg Hardy may alter Glennon's ability and success if the pocket collapses. With no protection in the running game, the Panthers should establish control early and cruise.